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Mar 28, 2017

How do you sift through 1.5 million ship messages?

Automated Identification System (AIS) messages are like the Twitter feed for ships. Day and night maritime vessels all across the planet are broadcasting small messages letting you know where they are along with some information about the ship itself and the voyage that it is currently on. At Spire, we use a constellation of small satellites to listen to these messages and help you turn them into actionable information. Our goal is to make monitoring, tracking, and analyzing the world's maritime vessels as easy as possible.

This starts with our Messages API, a RESTful interface for ingesting decoded AIS messages and relevant metadata into your workflow or application. But we know that most customers aren't interested in all of the 1.5M satellite messages we downlink per day (projected to grow to 10M by the end of 2017). To address this we have added some cleaning and filtering mechanisms so that you only receive the data you need.

First, not all AIS messages are created equal. Some do not conform to the proper AIS standard. Others have unavailable coordinate position information. And some have invalid MMSI or IMO numbers. We go ahead and "clean" those from the feed (don't worry, you can add them back if you like).

Next, the world is a big place and not everyone wants to know what's going on in every region at all times. To solve this we have added a geometry filter to our Messages API. By simply providing a GeoJSON polygon or multipolygon to the `positions` query parameter, you can limit the messages you receive to just the South Pacific, for example.

Even in a given area you may still only care about a handful of vessels. To get the messages just for the ships you care about, append the `mmsi` filter and list your MMSI numbers.

In just a few shorts steps we've gone from millions of raw AIS messages to a narrow stream of pre-cleaned, geographically filtered, and MMSI limited data. And all you have to do is make API calls.

To complement these and other improvements we've made to the Messages API, we are working on a suite of endpoints to help you do better vessels-level tracking and mapping visualization along with a geospatial toolkit for establishing areas of interest, managing fleets, and tracking events happening across the planet. All of this will give you the ability to actively monitor global trade, illegal fishing, and search and rescue operations quickly and easily.

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